Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The taste of Bitterness in Syria

Syria is going through new layer of emotions as a result of the Hariri assassination.

Before describing local reactions, I must say it was very moving to watch the extraordinary demonstration in center-city Beirut yesterday, the city in which I grew up. Many TV channels carried live feed of the procession from Martyr’s square to the UN building. The demonstrators carried signs with various nationalist slogans. Some said “Syria out,” others simply bore the crescent and cross together, but most were pictures of Hariri or the Lebanese flag. Like witnessing a downpour in the desert, it was extraordinary to watch the mass demonstration. Such manifestations of creative spirit have been absent from the Arab world for so long. Much of the public anger expressed in the days immediately following Hariri’s murder had given way to a celebration of Lebanon’s surprising unity. The participants were orderly and calm. There was a minimum of speechifying. Perhaps the leaders sensed that the day was a day of the people; they had better tag along, rather than try to direct. It was a beautiful first day of spring. It gives one faith that the Lebanese will finally get what they have been praying for these last 30 years – national reconciliation, independence and freedom.

Of course anyone familiar with Lebanon and the Arab World knows how elusive such goals can be. We can expect many setbacks and disappointments along the way. When Lebanon’s many sectarian leaders do try to organize and channel the new sentiment and popular expectations toward their own ends, solidarity will be sorely challenged. But who can deny that something new has happened? It has electrified people. Out of the barren Middle Eastern political scene has sprung the possibility to hope.

Bitterness and cynicism have reigned as king and queen of the region for so long that most people have forgotten the simple and much maligned power of faith in the future. And it has not come out of Iraq or Palestine, but out of little, exceptional Lebanon, which so many had written off as the Noah’s Arch of disorder. Long live Lebanon!

* * *

If Lebanon has seen a renaissance of spirit, Syria has had its spirit drained. The Ba’th (Renaissance) Party is in all time disarray. Fa’iz Ismail of the Progressive Front wrote the other day that the Party would not discuss “domestic maters” in its much anticipated meeting this summer. Only foreign topics would be on the table. That means no party reform as many had hoped, no legalization of new political groupings, and no end to the straight jacket of socialism and one party rule. If Lebanon is entering a new era of freedom with new leaders, Syria is mired in the old. There are no demonstrations here.

Syrians are grumbling and confused, disappointed and frightened. They are angry too. One neighbor of a friend, a well known doctor whose son attends the Lebanese American University in Beirut, insists his son will not return to Lebanon to complete the new semester. The son claimed that of the 300 Syrian LAU students, half will not return to Beirut. “You don’t know how the Lebanese hate us,” he said. “We don’t feel comfortable there, and we don’t want to return.” Perhaps these students and parents will reconsider their decisions in a few days should anxieties calm down. For the time being, no one is taking chances. The manager of a tourist company I spoke to said he had ordered Lebanese buses for his tourist groups, so they could pass into Lebanon from Syria unmolested. Syrian buses and cars have been stoned in Lebanon. One military officer claimed that his wife’s car had its windows broken while she was on a shopping trip across the border two days ago. The tents of Syrian itinerant farm workers were burned and destroyed near Tripoli. The Syrians are leaving Lebanon with or without government orders.

Many people are angry. “Tuzz `alla Lubnan” (Fart on Lebanon) is a common refrain around here among taxi drivers and shop keepers: “They are the ones who need us. We don’t need them. Perhaps some leaders are getting rich in Lebanon,” they add, “but for the Syrian people, Lebanon is a burden.” No soldier likes serving in Lebanon. Many will remind you that for the ordinary Syrian, Lebanon has been a constant drain in treasure and lives.

But everyone is worried underneath their show of hurt national pride. There are at least 300,000 Syrian workers in Lebanon (some say as many as 1,000,000) who may be forced to come home. What will Syria do with them? They are all supporting families. People are angry at Syria’s leaders. As one taxi drive said by way of a local aphorism: “When the leaders eat unripe grapes, it is the people who taste the bitterness.”

Arabism is dead: There is no popular will to stay in Lebanon. Ninety per cent of Syrians, maybe more, say Syria must leave. They know Syria’s presence in Lebanon has outlived its usefulness and welcome. “Arabism is dead,” the more reflective say. “The Saudis and people of the Gulf,” they don’t like us. “Jordan? Oh yes! We have great relations with Jordan. Iraq? Egypt? Morocco? Everyone is thinking of themselves. The Palestinians are ready to give up their rights.” One hears such comments wherever on goes. Some have said this for a long time, but others are letting it cross their lips for the first time. There is a new disappointment. Perhaps the often-interred Arab nation is actually dying? Even the Syrian government and Ba’th Party will have to eventually wake up to the reality. As the Minister of Information wrote several months ago, “There is no Baath Party in any other Arab country except for perhaps Yemen. No one wants to unite with us. Let’s not pretend. It is time to recognize this and change.” The Baath Party has its hands over its ears.

The Christian shops in the neighborhood had their televisions tuned to LBC and the Lebanese demonstration all day long. The noise and hubbub coming from their shops was audible on the streets. Muslim shops were listening to something else. Not a few were tuned to recitations of the Koran. Syrians are worried for their future and divided in how to respond to the events in Lebanon.

A month ago, foreign reporters were swarming all over Damascus trying to read the impact of Iraqi elections here. Only 14,000 Iraqis voted. It is the impact of events in Lebanon that they should have come to report on. That is what the Syrians are paying attention to.

Today, the Syrians taste the bitterness. Perhaps in the future, Lebanon will bring them something sweet. As my devout local newspaper seller said when I asked him what he thought of Lebanon: "The Lebanese have freedom. Every sect has a party to express the needs of the people. Isn't that what everyone wants and what Allah intended? Al-hamdulillah."


At 2/22/2005 03:31:00 AM, Anonymous Expat said...

As a Syrian,I'm hoping and praying that the regime ,driven both by its stupidity and unmatched larceny,will dig its heals and refuse to budge on Lebanon.This is bound to rally the internatonzl community against it and will evetually bring its demise.This is one Syrian who is rooting for the Lebanese in the hope that they will be for us what Poland was for the Soviet Union.

At 2/22/2005 06:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Everyone is thinking of themselves. The Palestinians are ready to give up their rights.That's right Joshua, the Palestinians will have to make peace if they want land.

Isn't that a shame?

At 2/22/2005 07:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Winds of Change !!!

In those glorious days We are showing the world,
what is the real DEMOCRACY,
What is the power of the people,
What is like to be patriotic,
What is like to be united,
What is it to be lebanese,
What every arab should be,...
We were born FREE and we were fed democrarcy and patriotism....

and We are proud to be Lebanese.

At 2/22/2005 08:11:00 AM, Anonymous Emile said...

I am feeling bad for Syria, but I am happy, happy, happy for Lebanon! I am going back to Lebanon this weekend to participate in the anti-Syrian activities. In front of my house now we have the glorious Lebanese flag flying and thereis one in our church as well. Lebanon will be free soon. I am hoping that Syria can say "mission acomplished" and get out. They did some good, itis not all bad but now they should go home. Better late than never! The Syrian workers...I don't know why they would have to leave unless they are some kind of secret agents. Syrians have to make money too. They can help Lebanon. The cabbi that says "fart on LEbanon" should know that Syria has been farting on Lebanon for a long time. The Lebanese revolution must be televised for all the other Arabs to see and imitate. I hope that this does not make the LEbanese hate the SYRIANS as people. There should be no room for that kind of thing in Lebanon. Hate the sin not the sinner! haha. Long live Lebanon!!!!!!

At 2/22/2005 08:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We also are proud of Lebanon and the fact that Lebanon was the only country that defeated Israel in the Arab World makes us all look up to this small country and its people. I am a Syrian expat with many Lebanese friends from different sects and ethnics and from where we are living, there is no tension between these communities, and there is no need because this emotional reaction from both sides is unhealthy; at the end of the day the reasons that bind us together are much more than those that could apart us.

At 2/22/2005 09:04:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you sed hate those allawes ho care only about there welth,but dont hate the poor syrian people.I would wish that the lebanes would take the opportunity to demonstrate against the true occupation"ISRAEL". Thank you all.

At 2/22/2005 09:12:00 AM, Anonymous Fares said...

A view from another Syrian:

No matter what you thought of Hafez Assad's policies, he was a competent strategist (at least in the management of foreign policy) and he was in control. This, in turn, earned him respect from friend and foe, for his ability to deliver on his commitments. This mess in Lebanon (and others: Iraq, Reform, etc.) demonstrates the stark contrast with the new President. After 5 years in power, he is either: 1. Incompetent; or 2. Not in control. I think it's a combination of both. In either case, it is no longer acceptable.

With regard to Syria's dilemma today, I support (and have for a long time) the immediate withdrawal of Syrian troops back into Syria. Our military presence has become a financial burden and a political liability a long time ago, and serves no useful purpose that I can see.

As for Lebanon, in my opinion, the events of the past week (as over the past 50 years) have demonstrated yet again that, despite parroted talk about their democracy, the Lebanese, both in terms of their leadership and people are as democratically immature as the rest of the Arabs. As a Lebanese politician remarked: Lebanon has lots of freedoms and little democracy. The combination of the freedom and democratic immaturity, in addition to the confused identity, is what brought Lebanon so much turmoil since 1943.

Whereas the natural emotions and sentiments of the Lebanese in reaction to shocking, watershed events like the assassination of Hariri can be understandable, especially after many years of Syrian mismanagement, I would expect mature and responsible leaders to calm emotions rather than fan the flames, for the sake of salvaging the long-term good neighborly relations (so as not to use the wooden vernacular: fraternal, historic, etc.). Rather than investing this momentum to repair the flawed relationship between the two countries, Lebanese leaders are using it to inflame people, incite hatred and invite other foreign intervention, thus replacing Syrian control with American/French hegemony, making Lebanon a battle stage once again.

I am afraid that the Lebanese reactions to the killing of Hariri will drive a serious rift between the Syrian and Lebanese people, which will take a long time to heal. Though I do not believe that Syria has anything to do with Hariri's murder, I blame both the Syrian government and the Lebanese equally for our predicament today.

On the Syrian side, I do hope that these events in Lebanon will seriously shake up the government in Damascus, and bring about fundamental change to Syria itself, because the status quo is no longer acceptable!

At 2/22/2005 09:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous At 9:04 AM,
Poverty among Alawis is much higher than their fellow Sunnis or others. Take a drive through their villages and you will realize this fact. The regime through out the last 30 years was a secular dictatorship with no doubt but it was not sectarian. The inner circles of Hafez Assad consisted of all sects.

At 2/22/2005 10:29:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I deeply apologize aboutwhat i wrote earlier "about the Allawies".I realy ment the assad mafia.I have good friends that are allawie ,and we all share the same concerns and dreems.It was anger and sorrow what drove to make that mistake.Evry true syrian feels that his great country,his home,his birth place,is just fadeing away.Only a Syrian knows how it feels to graduate and automatically plan to which country will accept him.I pray that god will give us the strength to stand up to the outer and the inner enamy.thank you all.

At 2/22/2005 10:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We also are proud of Lebanon and the fact that Lebanon was the only country that defeated Israel in the Arab World makes us all look up to this small country and its people.Dear Anonymous,

I share your pride at defeating Israel. Now all you have to do is "defeat" Syria;) and, of course, continue to keep your Southern border quiet with your "defeated" enemy.

We wish you good luck at creating an independent nation. We, of the Zionist persuasion, are ready to help you whenever that time comes!

At 2/22/2005 10:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry that Syrians in the streets are uspset. I really like Syrians and respect them, they like to have a drink from time to time and to joke, as I do.
Nevertheless, and this should be so clear to anyone who studies the last fifty years, how badly Syria has been managed (in the name of an arabism that is socially, politically and economically ill defined). Aside from a useful secular formula for living together in Syria (rare in the arab countries), the only use of the Baath doctrine has been to throw opponents to the dogs and to constantly outreach Syria's capacity as a regional player.
Anyone who plays football knows that you have to practice a lot to win matches, it is not enough to shout idological support to win. Syria did not organise itself enough, and it is only in practice that you can mesure your strength and refine your modesty.
I think that Syria will leave Lebanon soon. This will be very good for Lebanon, but make no mistake about it, it will be also very good for Syria. In the futur Lebanon and Syria will work together again on the basis of their national and common interests, rather than on the basis of secret service manipulations and the interests of a few ruling personages.

At 2/22/2005 10:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"We also are proud of Lebanon and the fact that Lebanon was the only country that defeated Israel in the Arab World makes us all look up to this small country and its people"

I disagree with you. It is well known who defeated Israel in Lebanon and I salute them "HizbAllah". As for all of the people who are betting on American aid, I wish you all the luck because you will need it.

At 2/22/2005 11:17:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

Hizbullah Lovers should understand that Israel wanted to withdraw from South Lebanon all along after the 1982 invasion, what they wanted was to secure their Northern Borders and look at the Equation today... for the last 3 years, their frontiers have been calmer than ever, Lebanon is practically at peace with Israel...

Furthermore, Hizbullah should remember that it wouldn't have been able to do zilcht if it wasn't for the support of Syria, Iran and the Syrian puppet regime of Beirut.

Hizbullah has served his term and if he intends to "liberate" Palestine then he can do that somewhere else, we want peace.

At 2/22/2005 11:49:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hizbullah Lovers should understand that Israel wanted to withdraw from South Lebanon all along after the 1982 invasion, what they wanted was to secure their Northern Borders and look at the Equation today... for the last 3 years, their frontiers have been calmer than ever, Lebanon is practically at peace with Israel...Ibrahim -

I agree. Let's thank Hizballah for their grand victory and for keeping the Israeli-Lebanese border quiet and PEACEFUL;)

At 2/22/2005 01:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

True to the Arab proclivity for over-emphasis, hyperbole, rhetorical gymnastics and hollow embellishments, it seems that "hizbayré" did indeed defeat Israel... at least in your warped credulous imagination.
Ignorance is indeed bliss...

Yours is an obtuse universe of demented realities, which, in addition to apologists, embelishers and sycophants like "Dr." Moubayed, produces cultural stagnation and collective mental retardation and laziness. You are truly a culture of "Ahmad Sa'id's" as Fouad Ajami aptly described you.

wlé ya manééyik, don't you think that Israel could have pulverized you if it so wished? you're such a bunch of gullible idiots, fe3lan. Were you not already in the stone ages, don't you think Israel would long since have sent you there???
Wlé ya 2ruud, you're lucky that, unlike Syria, Israel has no territorial claims over Lebanon... and had it not been for Syria and her proxies' spineless provocations, Israel would never have entered Lebanon in the first place. had Syria had the guts to stand up to Israel in the Golan, it would not have outfitted a bunch of louts like Hizbayré behind which to hide. This has always been the way you cowards fought your wars. you hide behind your weaklings, your women, and your children, and cry foul every time your sad noses get bloodied up. Such a bankrupt civilization, good only for rhetorical arm-flexing and not much else! Ahmad Sa'id!

At 2/22/2005 03:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous at 1:55 PM,
Why don't you apply at Haaretz or JP, They would be happy to recruit another dog for their propoganda.

At 2/22/2005 03:57:00 PM, Blogger johnplikethepope said...

reply to 9:12 AM, Fares

If the current President of Syria is incompetent at leading his nation in the allegorical cave of his father's doing, perhaps this dislike for the status quo will lead his country in a new direction. He may not survive the transition to a democratic republic, but his actions this week indicate to me that he is nevertheless allowing a better future for the Lebanese to evolve, and in time Syria may follow the same path.

At 2/22/2005 04:50:00 PM, Anonymous Emile said...

Unrelated question but.....
Does anyone know of an English translation of Fi Sabil al Ba'th by Michel Aflaq? I need it for a paper, I am in the US and we have an Arabic one (it is my father's) but it is in horrible shape, missing pages and many faded passages with water damage. Is there an English version available in the US?

At 2/22/2005 04:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is that Ali Ahmad Saiid? I liked your message though.

At 2/22/2005 05:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Josh,
Unfortunately and in accordance with Syrian tradition, we resort to drowning ourselves in sorrow and self pity. No single one of us believes that we have the ability of rid ourselves from the yoke of the Baath. When I saw the Lebanese "Intifada" in a most civil, peaceful and massive manner, I felt cheerfully optimistic that something similar might happen in Syria. However, the Syrian reaction has been very much in accordance to its tradition of self pity.
Why can't we Syrians even consider the possibility that we can rid ourselves from the Baath? Why can't we believe in ourselves as people who can live with each others and manage to do so peacefully without mandatory dictatorship? Why do we keep on believing the lies we invent? Why do we even think of Bashar as a good man? What has he done over the 5 years but to promise? Didn't his father come in 1970 on the promise to wipe away the dark days of the early bath injustices only install a new form of government called a hereditary republic which wiping ethics, installing fear in the hearts, draining the wealth, legalizing injustice and legitimizing bribes and transforming himself into a god? They keep on telling us that we are not ready for democracy while they did nothing over the last 40 years to prepare us for peaceful dialogue. Our current education system is a joke. Our youth dream of leaving the country. Patriotism is now a menace behind keeping us in the shit.
Why can't we just believe in ourselves? We saw what the Lebanese people did in a single day when they came together? We saw how fragile this Bashar is with his regime. Why can't we stop whining and at least refuse to believe all the lies they keep on feeding us? Bashar and his junta are just a few and we are the majority. We can't take them down. We have children to provide with better future than our humiliating present. Why is our pride and faith to rise up for the future of our children?
What is going on in Lebanon is nothing to feel sad about. It is an example of the destiny we can take in our own hands. I hate to have an Islamic fundamentalist government and blame me now for quoting what God mentioned in the Qor'an: God will not change the affairs of people until they change within themselves.
لن يغيير الله ما بقوم حتى يغيروا ما بأنفسهم

At 2/22/2005 05:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

نخجل كسوريين من تطوير نظام الجمهورية الملكية الذي سيظل وصمة عار علينا. فالهاتف النقال والتبغ والسوق الحرة التي تسلب سورية الملايين كل يوم من نصيب أبن خالة هذا الدكتور الذي تفتخر به والحكومة رئيسها دكتور باللغة العربية من أرمينية (يا للسخرية) والرئيس مؤهله الوحيد كونه ابن طاغية لم يحاسب على جرائم حماه كما حوسب على حلبجا صدام حسين.
ظللنا نسمع 40 سنة أننا غير مؤهلين للدمقراطية بينما لم تفعل الحكومة أي شيئ لتهيئة الشعب لشيئ غير الأصولية. سلبونا أخلاقناوتفشت الرشوة وقتل النظام القضائي وأصبح مجلس الشعب مسخرة. نهبت الدولة مواطنيها بدون تعويض وجفلت كل مستثمر عربي من القدوم إلى بلد انعدم فيه القانون. أصبح كل من يعتبر نفسه وطنيا شخصا عائشا بالأحلام. أتمنى سورية بلدا كباقي البلدان بدون حكم المافيا الذي سلطه الله علينا وما سعينا بشيئ لقلبه. إذا كان هذا حكم الأسود فمرحبا بالأرانب

At 2/22/2005 05:43:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

مع الأسف لم يحصل خلال التاريخ أن قام نظام ما بتخريب بلد ما وعاد نفس النظام بتغيير نفسه والنظام معه لبناء البلد من جديد. إن أساس الحكم الحالي في سورية يرتكز على تفضيل فئة معينة (ولا أعني العلويين بل المتنفذين) عن باقي الشعب وإعطاء تلك الفئة مزايا تفضيلية لتقوم بتوطيد سيطرة النظام على الشعب مقابل امتيازات. أي إصلاح يستدعي لغي تلك الامتيازات والمساواة بين تلك الفئة وباقي الشعب. متى ما تم إلغاء تلك الامتيازات يتم تلقائيا إلغاء تلك الفئة. إلغاء تلك الفئة معناه إلغاء أساس النظام الحالي. إذا افترضنا أن بشار يود أن يصل إلى تلك النتيجة وهو مستعد لأن يضحي بسلالته لصالح وطنه فإن عليه اتباع إصلاحات جذرية أبرزها إفساح مجال لتكوين سلطة رابعة (صحافة حرة) تقوم بمراقبة المؤسسات الحكومية والتشهير بأخطائها. كما عليه ، وبنفس الأهمية، أن يصلح القضاء ليحقق العدالة العمياء. بالإضافة لذلك تتوجب إصلاحات أخرى مثل إصلاح النظام الانتخابي، إنهاء عمل الأجهزة "الأمنية"، إلغاء قانون الطوارئ، تغغير دور حزب البعث دستوريا "كقائد للدولة والمجتمع"، فتح المجال لتأسيس الأحزاب ... إلخ.

إذا افترضنا أنه سيفعل كل هذا فلا أعتقد أن لديه القوة أو الدهاء لسحب البساط من تحت أرجل تلك الفئة المتنفذة دون أن تقوم تلك الفئة بالحيلولة دون أن تدافع عن امتيازاتها بجميع الطرق بما فيها الطرق الدموية. ولا أعتقد أنه سينسف قاعدة حكمه لأنه بغنى عن ذلك من وجهة نظره هو كما أعتقد. وعليه أعود فأكرر: مع الأسف لم يحصل خلال التاريخ أن قام نظام ما بتخريب بلد ما وعاد نفس النظام بتغيير نفسه والنظام معه لبناء البلد من جديد.

At 2/22/2005 05:56:00 PM, Blogger praktike said...

this comment section is amazing.

At 2/22/2005 05:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To: Anonymous at 1:55

It would be nice for you to share your opinions without insults and profanity; maybe then we'd all benefit. Rather than contribute to civilized discourse with Syrians and others in fora such as this (people-to-people without governments and Mukhabarat), you are debasing the dialog, demeaning yourself and your cause, and exposing your true character...

As for Syria being in the Stone Ages (unlike Lebanon, right?), it's true that our government's policies over the past 35 years have retarded our progress in many areas. But, let me remind you that it was not Syrians who over 16 years killed each other '3al haweeyeh'. It was not in Syria that over 16 years, Christians, Muslims and Druze massacred each other, bombed each other's schools and places of worship, and 'cleansed' each other's towns and villages. It wasn't Syrians who killed over 200,000 of their own neighbors and countrymen.

I am not absolving my government of the many mistakes it made since 1976. Indeed, I'd like to see our army withdraw and restore full sovereignty to the Lebanese. But, given the historical facts and your base "contribution" here, I think the issue of who's civilized and who's still in the Stone Ages is pretty clear!

At 2/22/2005 09:46:00 PM, Blogger Fares said...

To Johnplikethepope,

I don't know that Bashar Assad, or anyone else in the Syrian leadership, has any other choice at this point; defiance could be detrimental to the regime, in the current climate. His wisdom would have been proven had he allowed a better future to evolve before his hand was forced by these latest events. He's had 5 years to address a festering problem in Lebanon; instead, he chose to extend Lahoud's term. We're all paying for it now - Syrians and Lebanese.

Still, even since Hariri's assassination, his deathly silence so far is further proof of his incometence. Though late, there is a desperate need for the Syrian leadership to take the initiative and show goodwill toward the Lebanese by pulling troops back to the Bekaa (per Taef Accord), addressing the Lebanese people directly or some other gesture beyond the routine, confused statements by various officials. Bold action is desperately needed...but nothing is forthcoming so far.

Again, this leads me back to the same conclusion: either he's incompetent or he's not in control. Neither is acceptable anymore.

At 2/22/2005 10:16:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An extraordinary thread.

I hope none of the comrades in Lebanon and Syria forget the commitment to social justice as well as change.

At 2/22/2005 10:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Syrian, and in defense of Anonymous 1:55, I have to admit that s/he does have a point, crude and profane as s/he might be. Why is it that everytime someone levels a criticism at us we start complaining and we begin attacking their preson and their premise instead of engaging ourselves in retrospective examination? Afterall, didn't we bring the wrath of the Lebanese upon us? Didn't we cause them to hate us? 30 years of brutal occupation and abuse by our Army and intelligence services wrecked havoc on our peaceful and tolerant Western neighbor! Yet not one of us dared raise so much as a whimper in oppostion to the brutal rape of Lebanon; and we dare vilify the Lebanese who are venting their frustrations at our silent approval of their rape! Shame on us! Shame on those who dare criticise the anonymous poster who, like many other lebanese, is simply letting out some steam.
What a lame excuse one of us has leveled at anonymous 1:55's description of us as stone-agers! Instead of retrospectives to dig ourselves out of the stone ages, we throw the qualification back at her, as if this absolves us of our sins? Why does it always bother us to faced with the truth? Why this impulse to vilify Lebanon in order to make ourselves look better? Isn't it true that we are stagnant cowards that accept their lot without the faintest complaint? Isn't it true that Lebanon was a thriving and dynamic democracy --granted, with many flaws, but a democracy nonetheless-- but one that we ourselves recked and destroyed with our vacuous sloganeering and abstract doctines of Arabism, Baathism, and what have you!? Wasn't Lebanon's war one WE OURSELVES instigated to exoricise our own sins and keep the specter of civil breakdown away from our own decayed society?
Leave the Lebanese be, and let them bask in their newfound freedom, and may we soon too learn to walk in their giant footsteps. Long live Lebanon, and may we catch its bug.

At 2/23/2005 12:08:00 AM, Blogger yochanan said...

It is not just Lebanon that has the jack boot of Syrian troops what about the occupation of Kurdistan?

I hope this comes out peacefully but I doubt it will remember the way the rebelion in Hama was settleed.

1 million arabs in Israel are freeer than 300,000,000 arabs under arab rule.

At 2/23/2005 04:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yochanan, I agree as a matter of principle with your statements. However, Arabs in Israel don't care and don't want to be compared with other Arabs in the "Arab World". They want to be compared with other Israelis inside Israel, and in this domain their situation leaves some to be desired. It's as if I were to tell the Lebanese Christians to be thankful for their situation in Lebanon, compared to other Christians in the Middle East! Well, they don't buy such a comparison.
With regards to us leaving Lebanon peacefully or committing a Hama-like butchery, which has been the hallmark of our regimes in the past 50 years of our existence, well, I think this is no longer an option we can still afford. Hama took place amid a global climate of apathy. Today, Lebanon, and Syria's every move inside that country are being closely watched by the international community. For my own selfish reasons, I actually hope our clumsy Bashar would even negotiate such a brutal outlet. This will, hopefully, only accelerate the Baath's departure from Syria and the reemergence of democracy.

At 2/23/2005 06:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yochanan and 1:55 pm are completely on target.

Freedom and democracy is the natural course and direction for those countries that wish to enter the modern world and escape violence.

Promoting democracy will promote peace. This is what the people want. Of course, this is not what the despots and the jihadists want. The people will win in the end.

At 2/23/2005 06:47:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am disappointed with Bashar's failure in dealing with the Lebanese-Syrian relationship and with many other issues inside Syria but what kind of democracy are you talking about here? The Iraqi democracy or the Lebanese? are we really looking up to these examples? I hope not because we would be as incompetent as this regime is. Bashar is out of power and then what? What is the plan? My disappointment with Syrian opposition parties (except the Muslim brotherhood in London) is much higher than Bashar: Watching them on TV talking and announcing just makes me laugh!

At 2/23/2005 07:11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reply to Anonymous At 6:47 AM,
I agree with you and I suggest to opposition activists to consider this forum your space to let us know about your solutions for internal and foreign affairs. Please realistic solutions! something we can buy because we have had enough of romanticism and idealism.

At 2/23/2005 08:37:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

Anonymous at 5.59 pm:

Allow me to let a foreign army invade your land (America for example), let it destroy your economy and infrastructure in a ruthless war of "liberation and democracy", allow it to build tensions between your different communities (allawites, sunnis, druzes, kurds, shias, christians) and then let me know of the result:

Syrians killing each other based on confession; Christians, Muslims and Druze massacring each other, bombing each other's schools and places of worship, and 'cleansing' each other's towns and villages.

Syrians killing over 1,000,000 of their own neighbors and countrymen.

At 2/23/2005 09:35:00 AM, Anonymous Emile said...

"I hope none of the comrades in Lebanon and Syria forget the commitment to social justice as well as change."

God will punish us again if we do. The Christians behaved like greedy bastards instead of Christians (well the MAronites). They left their brothers out in the cold and brought all hell down on all the Lebanese. We can't let that happen again.

"Isn't it true that Lebanon was a thriving and dynamic democracy --granted, with many flaws, but a democracy nonetheless-- but one that we ourselves recked and destroyed with our vacuous sloganeering and abstract doctines of Arabism, Baathism, and what have you!? "

No. Lebanon was a democracy for the Maronites and the Muslims. Everybody else got shafted. It was totally unfair. It was aparthied. Even today the highest place I can hope to reach in government is stupid foreign minister. Why? Because I am Orthodox and not Maronite. It is a bigoted system that ignored individual worth and put sect before competence. It needs to be serious revised before people start idiolizing it as this democratic utopia. It was completely unfair and not representative of Lebanon or of a society that values the individual. Maronites are not and never were a majority and they get to run the country! You see them invite Syria in and the Syria protects their fat cats? That is the fault of us Lebanese and Syria. Not just Syria. The war was Lebanon's fault in toto. That was our lack of willingness to compromise and our backwardness coming out. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for that. The power hungry fat cats brought in Syria (which proably was smart at the time) and let them stay. This is their fault. It's Syria and LEbanon's failure not just Syria. I hope that when we expell foreign troops we revise ourselves and set up a truely fair government that doesn't shaft anybody, Orthodox, Maronite or Muslim, Druze, Armenian w/e. They're all Lebanese and have to be given a say. I believe God was punishing Lebanon for that unjust and half assed "democratic" system. Still we keep it and the government keeps all these stupid antiLebanon, anti-God policies and he takes the good LEbanese from us. We have to clean up our act. So does Syria, but by the logic of the tyrants themselves, if Lebanon becomes free, Syria will too. You can't just blame your country.

And neither Syria or Lebanon is in the stone age! We were soem fo the first to leave it! Anybody that says that is smoking rocks.

At 2/23/2005 10:14:00 AM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

You are right on target.
But since so many people want democracy for Lebanon, why not hold parliamentary elections using the Iraqi model? National lists will compete and my predictions would be: equal numbers of Loyalist and of opposition MP elected, plus a bunch of independent pragmatists who know how dangerous the likes of Joumblatt, Aoun, Geagea, etc can be. A big advantage: these independent pragmatists will be actually able to have a real dialogue with Syria. Oh! I forgot: by going to a system of national lists, the sectarian quotas will have to be abolished; after all, Iraq's sunnis forgot that, by chosing to boycott the unconstitutional elections, they were standing to not be represented. As to the 6:47 "Brotherhood in london" proponent: are you serious? What exactly is the Brotherhood's program for non-sunnis in Syria?

At 2/23/2005 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous Emile said...

The Brotherhood's program for nonSunnis is Saddam Hussien's program for Kurds. If you want to see the ideals of the Muslim Brotherhood in action, look at Algeria. Anwar al-Sadat best described their attitude towards nonMuslims when he said he would "empty Egypt of the Copts", Sadat was a known Brotherhood sympathizer and appeaser. It is a shame that such ideology comes from Arabs.

The Iraqi model seems to be a viable solution to sectarian discrimination (if all the sects participate) but we will have to see what happens in the longer run, as it is probably too soon to tell if they have worked. Do any other countries use this system?

At 2/23/2005 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

Emile, though I can understand your grievance, I would like to see you use the word "some" when reflecting the Maronites and/or Muslims that usurpated power in the 1920-1970 era...

I am Maronite and would gladly vote for a Muslim/Orthodox/Jewish/Protestant President if he represented the views of all Lebanese.

At 2/23/2005 11:01:00 AM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

As far as I know, Israel, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and a bunch of other countries hold true national elections with national lists (there are some variants). Others (like France and the US) hold elections by districts, allowing for those who draw these districts to maximize their chances of winning more seats (this is how a minority of the national popular vote can sometimes be awarded the majority of seats in the parliament). In a country like Lebanon (or Syria), national lists are great: moderates will tend to vote for parties with moderate candidates from all confessions, while sectarians will vote for the extremist parties. When Syria held democratic elections, a half century back, two parties emerged as great winners: the Baath (in the original utopian form inspired by Arsouzi) and the Communist Party. Then, things changed (but that is another story). Also, may I propose to all that this blog returns to a tone of democratic civility?

At 2/23/2005 11:08:00 AM, Anonymous Emile said...

"Emile, though I can understand your grievance, I would like to see you use the word "some" when reflecting the Maronites and/or Muslims that usurpated power in the 1920-1970 era...

I am Maronite and would gladly vote for a Muslim/Orthodox/Jewish/Protestant President if he represented the views of all Lebanese."

I agree, and I appologize for not paying closer attention to my phrasing.

I agree with returning to civility. The national list idea sounds likea good one, in the effort to minimize extremist sectarian influence in the government.

At 2/23/2005 11:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The language of despots....

Who try to keep the ME from advancing beyond war:


At 2/23/2005 11:50:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Both of you miss the point; both Ibrahim and Emile. I wish you could see things from the perspective of Syrians like me, who have for generations been hungering for freedom of expression, civil society, and a hint of democracy (even if only in its mere accoutrements and ostentations), which in my view Lebanon enjoyed long before we got involved, and even during and in spite of the oppressive system that our regime imposed over the past 30 years!
In your haste to indict and devalue Lebanese democracy, Emile, (and pigeonhole it as an exclusively Maronite and Muslim (sic.) one), you missed my point entirely. I did recognize the fact that Lebanon's democracy had many flaws. But unlike the totalitarian regime under which I, and millions of my Syrian countrymen before me have been languishing for generations, a democratic system, even a seriously flawed one like Lebanon's, has an amazing ability and built-in mechanisms to allow for modifications, recalibrations, and correction. You criticize your Lebanese system, and that's a healthy impulse, but show me ONE Middle Eastern or Arabic system that can even come close to Lebanon's. Show me a system where minorities and majorities compete in government, in society, in academe, and in the market ON EQUAL FOOTING the way you guys do it in Lebanon. Show me one local democracy that can boast fairness, inclusion, and egalitarianism the way Lebanon's system does! Arabs, and among them many of my misguided Syrian countrymen, are quick to judge and denigrate Lebanon's democracy, but do they have an alternative? Can they suggest an alternative? We're only good at indicting Sectarianism, but what do we have for a substitute? We have willfully distroyed the system, and what have we instituted in its place? A clone of our own retched obscurantist totalitarianism??? Well, guess what Emile and Ibrahim! I would take your unfair Maronite-biased half-democracy ANYTIME, and you can keep my benevolent Alawite totalitarianism and all of its descendents. You guys don't know what you're talking about. And btw, were it not for the sectarianism you so abhore, which in my view was a form of reverse discrimination AGAINST Maronites and Sunnis (not for them), Shiites and other (presumably disadvantaged) communities would have been left completely on the margins of the system. Sectarianism, which made allowances for communal membership rather than talent and competence, allowed Muslims to enter the system; Shiites and others who would otherwise have been left behind. It was affirmative action to the detriment of the Maronites (who were, let's face it) the most highly educated savvy and advanced of Lebanon's communities (save perhaps for some urban Sunnis and the Druze.) Without this form of affirmative action, the Maronites would have, through aptitude NOT constitutional allotment, gained the lion's share of Lebanon's political and administrative office.

As the Lebanese journalist Michael Young once said, Lebanon will probably never become Sweden or the United States, but it is the BEST thing the Middle East has... and given time and protection from predatory Syrian/Arab/Palestinian/Arab-Nationalist/Pan-Arabist and other Arab-generated abstract and intrusive ideologies, Lebanon's system CAN correct itself and serve as a beacon for all of the prejudiced and hateful systems that surround and choke us today. before you rush to poke your accusatory finger, look around you and tell where and under which system would you rather live!?!
You have the choice between
a) a Lebanese democracy, prone and open to changes and corrections;
b) an Israely theocratic democracy;
c) an assortment of dogmatist and hypocritical Arab theocracies, where non-Muslim minorities live like subjugated dhimmis (if indeed they still exist beyond their fossilized form);
d) or, perhaps this would be your choice, a "secular" oppressive and brutal "social Arab-nationalist" system, where you can live as a devalued human being and be thankful that an oligarchy of vicious sadistic arab-nationalists and rapacious corrupt kleptocrats, organize your "well-being" for you.

Think my friends, before unleashing you venom on little exceptional Lebanon, take a quick glance at what lies in store to your East; a collection of leeches, criminals, tyrants, and bullies.....

Ahmad Sa'id

At 2/23/2005 12:33:00 PM, Anonymous Emile said...

How is the Lebanese system prone to change? It has not changed. It is a sytem of tokenism. It has not been corrected. My point is not that Syria or any of the other states is better off than we in Lebanon are, but that it should not be ideolized as something it is not. I hear this from my Coptic friends, "oh Lebanon, it is soo wonderful" yes, it is oh so wonderful with it's democracy based on tokenism. I would prefer everyone be left out rather than selectively leaving out certain groups because itis convienant. At least that is fair because it is everybody in bondage together. Do not misunderstand me, I do not think things are any better in Syria but I cannot stand for a half assed democracy to be the "model" for others. That is the problem in the first place. Everybody set their bar low. The Maronite officals had to give up only a little bit of their power (and as you recognize they were the richest of us so its not like they were going to be going broke because of it) to accomidate the other sects that out numbered them. What we got from that was incompetent leaders and angry young people. Lebanon may be among the freest in the region but it is not as people like to make it out to be. We can do better than what we did before, that is all I am saying. We are not on equal footing. You tell that to the Shia or Orthodox that want to get ahead but get hindered because there is an other sect boundary in our face. Yes it is worse elsewhere but it is not perfect here, it is far from being an example. Lebanon is better than most other place but I don't see why we should be hailing a "Democracy" that is leaving people out. It looks good from abroad, I understand you on that. Thre are many positive things about Lebanese government and society. Our society is mostly open and largely free. But I cannot compete with the Maronites or the Sunni or Shia because of the governmental system. There is little that smaller minorities can do in Lebanon to advance the nation as a whole. We are allowed to be lead but we cannot lead. We are in a democratic dictatorship. We get silenced. My dream is Lebanon where all Lebanese can be fully represented and have a true equal opprotunity. Even if there it ends up that the ORthodox end up unrepresented because we lack the ability, so be it because if we are not willing to work for it, we do not deserve it. I want this for Syria, Palestine, Jordan and all the other states in the region. I am a perfectionist. I do not mean to say I do not appreciate what we have in Lebanon, I do very much especially when it is compared with our neighbors. But I cannot settle for an unfair country. If that is making sense. I did not mean to offend you by any means.

At 2/23/2005 01:40:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

Ahmad Said,
We need to be clear about what is best for Arabs in general, and Lebanon in particular. First, what are Arabs? The only definition that is really accepted by scientists is: People who speak Arabic as their native language. This excludes those who are primarily Assyrian-speaking, Kurdish-speaking (pardon me, Saladin), Armenian-speaking (but I do acknowledge the fact that previous MP Babikian spoke the best classical arabic in the parliament in Lebanon), Turkish-speaking, and Farsi-speaking individuals, as well as Circassians and others who live in the area. Oddly, some Jews who speak arabic like natives are thus to be considered arabs. Obviously, religion should not be a primary consideration. The French (well, Clemenceau aka Clement-sot) and the Brits came out with the worse map of the Middle-East ever, and the French aggravated these errors by giving a piece of Iraq to Syria, a piece of Syria to Turkey, and a "Grand Liban" which has proven anything but to be grand, except in size (the Ottomans had a much better understanding of the area). The only good thing about Lebanon is that democracy, which was taken away from Iraq, Syria (etc) as a direct or indirect result of the creation of the State of Israel (the governments were blamed and toppled) persisted somehow (to be more exact: freedoms remained but we have not yet evolved to real democracy). So, what do we need?
a-Economic security to all
b-Strict separation between State and religious sects
c-An international (EU, US, and Russian Federation) conference on the Middle-East to redraw the borders according to what the people want, not what Churchill drew on a napkin in a restaurant (true story on how Jordan was outlined).
This conference should produce a Middle-Eastern Federation where all citizens have equal rights.
Otherwise, 25 years from now, all the religious minorities (Christians, Jews, and others) will be gone, and the area will see a confrontation between the two main branches of Islam (God forbid). How can we have a sustainable peaceful Middle-East:
a-Stop working with the secret services of foreign "outside" powers (at least an Israeli agent is a "local" guy who can understand regional issues, ask Dahlan about Hasson, but a French agent is just a delusional guy who has overdosed on 40 proof arak or on Dom Perignon).
b-Negociate with Israel within a global framework (if all the arabs sit at the table at the same time, we can achieve much more)
c-Create a self-sustaining economy based on tourism for the whole area (no need for petrodollars). I can see a huge line of tourists lined up to visit the whole area if it is really peaceful.
To get there, we need the following:
a-Let political parties that have outlived their original mission die of natural causes (Nasserian, PSP, PSNS, PNL, Phalanges, and eventually the Baath in Syria and in Lebanon)
b-Create political parties that are not temporary coalitions, but true national non-sectarian parties (I have to say that the Lebanese opposition and the Lahoud loyalists both lack credibility).
c-Sectarian parties will inevitably have to use a tone of moderation: the hezbollah (Barak withdrew from South Lebanon at least in part because of this party) can achieve this goal because they do not believe in empty-shell pan-arabism, but the moslim brotherhood (thankfully weak in Lebanon and in Syria) will never adapt to a true democratic society as they are unable to tell the difference between pan-arabism (a dangerous illusion) and pan-islamism (a feared delusion).
The road is long for real democracy, but we should have faith and resolve.

At 2/23/2005 02:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Emile, I am not in the least offended! Inta ibn el balad, and it is your prerogative to be critical, and that is precisely my premise! Lebanon DOES allow you that lattitude, even under the duress of Syrian occupation. I, on the other hand, who am probably not more that an hour's car ride from you, am lucky if I don't get slapped around and thrown in jail if I dare look a simple functionary in the eye!

Forgive me if I persist in looking at Lebanon (and I have to agree with your Coptic friend) as my template, my breathing space, and my porthole to freedom and democracy.

In Syria, we do have a tendency to blame others, preferably evil Israel, for our misfortunes. But in the case of Lebanon, and forgive me for impinging, I do believe that the flaws of your system are extrinsic, NOT intrinsic. and for this, J'accuse! I blame:
Arab Nationalism,
Syrianism/Syrian Nationalism,
Palestinian sloganeering and revolutionarism,
and finally religious/muslim fundamentalism
(all of which were ultimately, perhaps, the result of Israel's existence..... However, in reality, the cruel and fiendish streaks of Arabism and Baathism were built into the very writings of Michel Aflaq and Sati' al-Husri, and there is no way anyone can convince me that Arabism could perhaps have been compassionate and tolerant... This goes against the grain and the very essence of the creed.)

Ultimately, all of these abstract "isms" have exerted formidable pressures on the delicate (but ultimately inclusive and fair) Lebanese system, and willfully prevented it from adjusting to its internal exigencies. Given time, I am persuaded that your system, again, in spite of its flaws, is the best answer to the plural and multi-ethnic nature of the Lebanese identity. You are a sophisticated people, you are a politically and culturally mature society! I am convinced that you will find a way to resolve your internal disputes (and you should know that any truly democratic society does have internal disputes and disagreements! Look at Switzerland, look at France, look at the US! There are many minorities with grievances on any given day in all of these democracies! Only authoritarian totalitarian regimes, like the ones to your Eas, are "grievance free"... maybe because we are cowed and intimidated into submission and silence.)

Again, I am convinced that you will find a way to resolve your internal disputes. I am also persuaded that that there would not have been a war in Lebanon (whether in 1975 or in 1958) were it not for the meddling of the Arabs and their bickering and tinkling on Lebanese soil. A plural society, by its very nature feels compelled to please and appease others, especially if those others are of the invasive rapacious kind! In the process of appeasing others, you, the Lebanese, forgot to please yourselves. To paraphrase Voltaire, you guys need to "start tending to your own garden." Forget about the imported Arab causes, and start putting your own house in order. Start looking after Number One. YOU! Wass Salaam.

At 2/23/2005 02:42:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahmad Said,
I forgot to make a point about the best educated in Lebanon: it is not the Maronites, not the Sunnis, not the Shia, not the Druze, not the Orthodox, and not the Catholics. It is actually the Lebanese educational system as a whole. A huge problem for the Syrian educational system is the arabization / nationalization of 1967 after which all sciences had to be taught in Arabic (this Atassi decision was supposed to be followed by the usage of Russian for technology in Syria).
However, when it comes to politics, I agree with Emile that the proportion of Sunni, Druze, and Maronite MPs in the 99-seat and in the current 128-seat parliaments is not based on reality. Unofficial figures show 31% Christians, 19% Sunnis, 5% Druze, and 45% Shia. Christians are half Maronites, half others. So, with the two Mountain denominations (Maronite and Druze) being about 21% and the Sunnis another 19%, the others should ask for more if we keep using the stupid token system that Emile talks about with outrage.
Let us see the real elite now:
a-Banking and business: Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Christian expats from Syria and Palestine; but the greatest was Hariri
b-Ideas and Journalism: all are represented in % equal to general population, except that Greek Orthodox tend to be more innovative
c-Liberal Professions: more biased % wise towards Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholic
In fact, if Lebanon goes back to the Moutasarrifia system under the Ottomans (God forbid), it will look like a Sunni Beirut and a Druze-Maronite Mountain, losing many among the elite.
You all know that I oppose this sectarian system that we keep because we never really liberated ourselves from the Ottoman Empire. I do respect religious figures, but we do not need them. It is sad now that we need them in Lebanon to appease the hot-heads that do not mind to precipitate Lebanon in yet another civil war.
PS: There are 3 categories of Lebanese: those who live there, those who hold passports, and those who are descendants of Lebanese expats in the US, Brazil, Australia, etc, etc, etc... The latter do not have the right to vote under the Constitution, unless they re-obtain their citizenship.

At 2/23/2005 03:15:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

Dear Anonymous at 2.42 pm,

Not that it matters that much, but I beg to differ to your unofficial numbers with official numbers from the Lebanese Ministry of Interior a few weeks ago:

The figures, as reported by An Nahar, show that Lebanon nowadays has a total of 3,029,138 eligible voters--51.4% females and 48.6% males. Muslims make up 59%, Christians 40.8% and Jews 0.2%.

The lists also show that 26.5% of the voters are Sunni Muslims, 26.2% Shiites, 22.1% Maronites, 7% Greek Orthodox, 5.6% Druze, 5.2% Catholics and 3% Armenian Orthodox. Other sectarian denominations account for the rest at less than 1% each.

With more than three million are eligible to vote, Lebanon's overall population would probably stand at more than five million.

Just for the record, I believe this is the closest to reality.

At 2/23/2005 03:23:00 PM, Anonymous Emile said...

It is sad that there are more Lebanese in Brazil than in Lebanon itself. When I visited my unlce in Brazil, we went to a town where the population was overwhelmingly Lebanese and most of them could speak Arabic well. It was like somebody stole the Lebanese and hid them in the jungle. Is it Lebanese that are not in Lebanon but still citizens that cannot vote or can expats vote if they are still citizens? If somebody were to mobilize the Lebanese in Brazil all on its own there would be just under three times as many people voting (there are 9 million Lebanese in Brazil). Isn't that a hoot?

Anyhow, does anybody know the logic behind NOT having a census? I'd like to know what the whole of Lebanon looks like outside of voting. Just a thought.

At 2/23/2005 03:34:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

Sorry for not having my source on the unofficial numbers handy. Nobody told me that there was a new census (the numbers you mention are old). The source for the numbers I gave is a US website that uses the US intelligence services. I will update as soon as I find the website.

At 2/23/2005 03:53:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

Kingcrane, how do the US Intelligence services perform censuses?

At 2/23/2005 04:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who are we fooling here? Democratic or not, the next Syrian regime will be an Islamic one.

At 2/23/2005 05:12:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

The census of 1932 is the last official one; the numbers from the Lebanese government may be correct as they include expats with passports, but my source (Directorate of Intelligence of the US CIA NESA 92-10020, LDA 92-13537 from 08-1992) is available on the web, except that the detailed graphs have been taken away. I look at this material just because I find it odd that no census has ever been done by the Independent Lebanese State. As an advocate of elections that are free of sectarian bias, I do not think we really need data on sects but rather true national elections with national lists. I am ready to vote for the party that will:
a-Remove all confessional barriers between all of us
b-Confiscate all land owned by clergy or by the waqfs
c-Clean up the stables (a Herculean task)
I have no confidence in anybody in Lebanon to do this, as we do not have really honest politicians.
And: the Opposition is worse than the Loyalists because they would not mind igniting a new round of fighting, just because of personal ambition (see the many interviews given by Charles Ayoub).

At 2/23/2005 09:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leila here, from Dove's Eye View

Re: who can vote. I am the daughter of a Lebanese father and American mother; born in the USA, I was immediately registered by my father with the Lebanese embassy at birth. During my 8th year I lived in Lebanon with my relatives in order to go to school, and obtained a "tozkara" ID card at that time. Upon returning in 1995, when my parents had moved there and were in residence, my father helped me get a Lebanese passport. (OK, so our cousin was a bigshot in the ministry responsible, so it was expedited, but I would have gotten one eventually)

Since I was single and his daughter, I was eligible. This meant that I could have voted in the '96 election had I been in Lebanon (no absentee ballots!)

Meanwhile, my American mother moved back with dad in '93 to take a job at AUB. Because she is the wife of a Lebanese citizen, she immediately received and still holds a Lebanese passport. She doesn't vote because she can't read the ballot! But she could.

Now this is nice for us, but it's actually supremely unfair. THere are Lebanese women married to Lebanese born Palestinian refugees in Lebanon who have lost their passports, and their jobs! (because Palestinian refugees, even if they are the third generation in Lebanon, cannot work in many professions in Lebanon). Never mind the right to vote, these women have no rights when they become stateless. They lose their incomes, pensions and national health insurance, and they gain - the laisse-passer travel document. Maybe the right to some UNRWA powdered milk sometimes.

The daughter of a Palestinian refugee father and Lebanese mother has no right to a Lebanese passport or life. The daughter of a Palestinian refugee mother and Lebanese father would have the passport and all attendant rights.

I understand from newspaper reports that this situation, because it discriminates against women, is actually illegal under UN treaties to which Lebanon is a signatory.

Now I know that bringing this up will anger some Lebanese (it bugs my normally fair and feminist father no end) because I've mentioned the situation of the refugees. I'll only say that the Lebanese abroad are happy to take as many foreign passports as they can get - I've known more than one Lebanese who carries French, Canadian and lebanese passports, or some other combination. My compatriots are happy to take advantage of the generous immigration policies of other countries so they can educate their children, practice their professions and build their wealth in America, France or Canada. But they don't want the Palestinians living in the camps to get Lebanese passports because (here's one excuse I've heard) they would take away all the jobs from Lebanese.!!!

I know the pro-Israelis reading this will be happy to crow about this failing of the Lebanese, but just because the Israelis criticize us for this situation doesn't mean we should ignore it.

So in summary, I am registering my protest about two issues 1) that citizenship passes through the father or the husband only, against international treaties and laws, and 2) that Palestinians in the camps are stateless unto the third generation, benefiting no one.

I don't have an answer about the Palestinian situation, I'm aware of all the objections, but really, when you look at it from America, where we grant citizenship to anyone born here, and it hasn't harmed us - well it makes little sense. From my American seat it looks like it creates more problems for everybody when you keep a permanent underclass. THey aren't even Bedouins, they're just stateless.

BTW I haven't checked but I assume I lost my Lebanese citizenship when I married my American husband 7 years ago, so the whole question is moot for me. My brother, now, he could get a passport, and one for his British wife, and then for his ten year old son. My brother hasn't set foot in Lebanon since 1978.

At 2/23/2005 10:27:00 PM, Blogger Greg said...

I recently discovered your site. Thank you for the first hand account of reactions from ordinary Syrians to the latest events. I've had a few posts at my site that link to yours. Great site.

At 2/24/2005 12:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Ali Ahmad Said the same Adunis??

At 2/24/2005 06:08:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah and after "al thabit wal mutahawwil" he resigned to blogging.

At 2/24/2005 08:25:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an amazing comment thread - as an American who doesn't get a lot of foreign news from the MSM except if there's a bomb going off, it's really interesting to see the wide range of opinions expressed in the thread and I'm learning a lot from everyone, even from those with whom I may disagree.

At 2/24/2005 08:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ibrahim asks, "how do the US Intelligence services perform censuses? "

The US census is conducted every ten years by the Census Bureau, which has no relationship to any of the intelligence agencies. Their website is here: http://www.census.gov/

And this web page (http://www.census.gov/mso/www/npr/custinfo.html) has a lot of basic information.

At 2/24/2005 09:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:08 a.m., do I sense a hint of contempt in your reference to Adonis' "The Static and the Changing"? If so, may I ask why?
And by the way, "The Static and the Changing" was Adonis' Ph.D dissertation, which he defended at Beirut's USJ in 1973. And trust me, his creative genius was on a continuous upward crust subsequent to his Phd, and by far overshadowed his dissertation. So I doubt he's been reduced to blogging (as I doubt he has the time or patience for the petulance and narrowness of some of the Arabists on this weblog.) And, if I were your, I wouldn't flatter myself and assume he's down in the gutter with us, right now!

"Al-Thabit wa L-Mutahawwel" was the epitome of Adonis' "Arab" humanism, which was neither Arab nor Arabist. And I do say "Arab" here in spite of the fact that Adonis has long since divorced himself from Arabism and Arab identity (in fact, he was NEVER an exponent or a proponent of Arabism, and his membership in the Syrian Social National Party is a lurid proof of that... as, before it got co-opted by Arabism and Baathism, the SSNP was a rabidly anti-Arab ideology which recognized the inherent diversity and ethnic-linguistic multiplicity of the Syrian people, NOT THEIR BLINKERED ARABNESS... see our own Bassam Tibi's work on "Arabism" and "Arab Nationalism".)

Still, I did mention the word "Arab" and "Arabism" in the same sentence as Adonis and Humanism, and that's a crying shame, because Adonis (a telling nom-de-plume, wouldn't you say?) was never a patsy or a proponent of the brutality, viciousness, and jingoism that were the hallmark of Aflaq and al-Husri’s creed, and which continue to be Arabism’s most basic instinct and method in our day. But I did stress "Arab" here, and that was NOT because of Adonis' birthplace (Syria, "the beating-heart of Arabism"), and NOT becasue of Lebanon (the universe of Adonis' intellectual efflorescence, and the most sublime casualty of that detestable and blinkered Arabism.) No! I simply mentionned Arab because Adonis, in spite of his infinite eloquence in French and English, considers the Arabic language as his definitive intellectual language and homeland. Otherwise, he has long since renounced and absconded Arabness and Arabism (that is if ever he were a supporter of that mad ideology.) If anything, Adonis is a par excellence humanist and a propagator of a universalist message. That is perhaps why, I suspect, you mentionned "The Static and the Changing) with the typical spiteful Arabist scorn.

And by the way, I am not a Ali, I am an Ahmad, and no relation to Adonis.
Ahmad Sa'id

At 2/24/2005 09:38:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I should have said "Alas, no relation to Adonis!", and should have clarified that Adonis WAS for a short while under the spell of Antoun Saadeh's charismatic personality (as was for a while another Sa'id; a Lebanese by birth this time, the Great Sa'id Akl).. and both WERE members of the SSNP. Both, however, are two of the most articulate opponents of that most blinkered mouthpieces of Arabism today. It's sad how Saadeh's Syrianism got Arabized!

Ahmad Sa'id

At 2/24/2005 12:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, we do indeed have a Patriarcal system all over the Middle East. I believe the rules in Syria are the same. I also agree with Ahmad Sa'id that the SSNP (or PSNS) lost the vision that Antoun Saadeh articulated in the few publications that survived(his best manuscript is lost forever, as the French Mandate administration, God pardons their stupidity, destroyed the only copy). Indeed, the SSNP (or PSNS) started getting involved in village squabbles all over Lebanon and (this is hear-say only, as I have no reference) in some parts of Syria. Again, with the Nasserian, Phalangist, PSP, (etc, see my previous list) parties, these are parties that should just go away. We need two parties: one that endorses trickle down economics and one that will value workers. I am not a communist, in fact I am a fat capitalist, but I have had it with sectarian parties, not only religious ones, but also the pan-arab sect, the pro-Western sect and others. Let me remind them what Georges Naccache (must read stuff for non-arabs on the blog) said about Lebanon in the days of the infancy of the Nation: "deux negations ne font pas une nation" and I would like to say (humbly and modestly) to all those with personal, sectarian and partisan ambitions, and their supporters, that we are today at a crossroad. We have to make tough choices, and we do not have to answer the old question (if we are still neither pro-West nor pro-Syria). Those who take advantage of the people will be judged. The current coalitions in Lebanon show that the French and the Brits have succeeded in dividing us. foreign powers will ally with any leader for a while, and then discard such leader when they wish, leaving the followers of such leader ripe for rape. So here is my recipee (equally good for Lebanon and Syria):
a-The hell with religion
b-The hell with Pan-everything
c-The hell with feudal political inheritance
d-Create an economic system that is self-sustaining
e-Conduct real negotiations about peace with Israel
f-Mandate a party system based on the election of national lists
g-Confiscate weapons from all but the army, after ensuring that the army will be the protector of all citizens

At 2/24/2005 05:09:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

To Anonymous @ 8.26 AM, I was being sarcastic.

At 2/24/2005 06:52:00 PM, Anonymous kingcrane said...

To: Ibrahim and Anynonous at 8:26.
I hate to disappoint you, but the US CIA does have statistical methods to estimate population # and % in various parts of the world. The Lebanese Ministry of Interior can release a variety of non-census numbers about voters, but without an official census, there is little actual data since 1932. Thus, going back to Emile's argument against tokenism, the sytem is even less justified if it is not based on hard data. Also, many of the "opposition" are criticizing the (equally malevolent) Loyalists of scheming; could one of these schemes be that these # are not really correct? Or does the opposition (who has obviously at least a half-hearted supporter in Ibrahim)just pick and chose what they like (a census that favors Sunnis and Maronites) and scream against what they do not like (neutral Swiss experts to investigate the Hariri blast).
Once again, sectarianism is our problem, in the whole region. It is time for real change, not bogus "democracy" meant to create a mess out of the ME

At 2/25/2005 05:14:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You know, I’ve read your bumbling comments for a few days now and frankly I’ve had it.

What is the alternative you raving Jackass? What is the alternative to sectarianism? illi, enlighten us! What is the magic pill? What is the secret that you have? That every poseur visionary that takes a college class claims to have?

What? democracy? Well guess what we don’t reside in a president’s speech so you’re going to have to give us all a little bit more detail than that. Are you taling about mob democracy, consociational democracy, a federal arrangement (watch here! You’re going to get your panties in a bunch over partition and those evil plans to devide the ME). I swear if someone hears you morons they would think that if ONLY the Arabs would unite!

And don’t get me started on your name!

I want to come back to that and the message left regarding Ali Ahmad Saiid and its gross exaggerations and leaps. Hopefully this weekend.

At 2/25/2005 05:32:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ

Also, I just read Leila’s message! I’m inclined to not only ask “what country do you live in” but also “what universe” and “what era?”

Iltili the “trickle down economics party” and the party that “values workers”? That’s just hilarious as it is ill informed!

And for the love of God do not defame the late great Georges Naccache by including him in such uneducated writing. If you know of his complete writing or his political orientation throughout his career I’m certain you would despise the man. Wlik even the part you referenced contradicts your entire message. The guy was clearly referring to the duality of Lebanon and you want to dissolve that duality. Nobody has clued us on in as to how though. Maybe you and kingcrane are saving that for sweeps month.

I also reread Ahmad Saiid. My apologies you don’t actually commit Adonis to anything he did not do or say; in my opinion there is still a bit of misrepresentation. I don’t he was as resentful of the culture as you make it seem to be. He was definitely resentful of the classical language as showcased by his work with el khal.

I just wish I had more time. I will get back to this this weekend.

At 2/25/2005 08:16:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

Habibi, even if Maronites represented 10% of Lebanon's population I wouldn't even worry about it. I would even call at this point for an abolition of sectarianism and show the world how effective our community can be within a laic Lebanon.

At 2/25/2005 08:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5:32 am, Ahmad Sa'id here!

I agree with you that Adonis "was [...] resentful of the classical language as showcased by his work with el khal", but wouldn't you say that, for Arabs, language is everything? Isn’t Arabic the essence of their culture and civilization? Isn't language, afterall, the basis of the suicidal journey upon which Aflaq and al-Husri made us all embark in the 1930s and 1940s?? Aren’t we considered Arabs, as a misguided Emile Ibrahim above told us, because we have this dead-weight of a language in common?
When you dismiss the Arabs' language you are indeed stabbing at their very existence! Wasn’t that afterall the entire premise of Shi’ir? El-Khal and Adonis attempted to break with, not only traditional verse and measure, but the entire body of Arabic imageries, metaphors, similes, and cultural references. Indeed, el-Khal even criticized Sa’id Akl for occasionally reverting back to what he called “desert imageries”. if anything, the imageries in Shi’ir were the product of the group’s immediate surroundings. El-Khal’s poetry was imbued with Phoenician references.
Therefore, in my view, both el-Khal and Adonis were critical of not only the language, but the message it was trying to convey. But given the blinkered Arab nationalist climate in which they were living, their only device to stamp out the message (Arabism and the culture of midgets that it produced) was indicting and sapping the messenger (the language.) In my view, nothing encapsulate Adonis’ annoyance with Arabism than his (and el-Khal’s) attack on the Arabic language. As Ajami said, “The gripping language had been one of the principal weapons of the pan-Arabists […]: it intoxicated and created an impression of great power and accomplishment. […].” Arabs were infatuated with their own hollow words as it were, according to Ajami; their language was an end in itself, not a means of communication. Afterall, all of the national renewals in Europe (and both Adonis and el-Khal being educated at Lebanese Jesuit institutions were well aware of that) were corollaries to liberation from the shackles of a classical language (Latin.) The Middle East, to this day, remains captive to a sterile culture and thought system, both embodied and expressed in a static language. And so, 5:32 am, to my sense, Adonis’ linguistic reform had cultural and national impulses and ramifications. The nom-de-plume Adonis is not a frivolous one; it follows certain political and cultural patterns! Membership in the SSNP (and not say, the Baath or its contemporary clones) is also quite telling; the SSNP was actually quite violent in its indictment and rejection of Arab culture, contrived Arab identity, and overbearing pan-Arabism.

“I don’t [sic.] he was as resentful of the culture as you make it seem to be.”
You’re right he wasn’t resentful! He was vehemently so! He simply wanted to slay the past and march head-on towards a humanistic universalist (non-Arab) future. Wasn’t he the one who said “we must realize that the societies that modernized did so only after they rebelled against their history, tradition, and values… We must ask our religious heritage what it can do for us in our present and future… if it cannot do much for us, then we must relinquish it.”?? (al-Adab, June 6, 1968, pp. 4-5) To me, this is more than a mere mutiny against the Arabic language. It’s a rejection of the flimsy and forged disjointed culture and identity that this language has been trying to force-feed us for the past 100 years!

Ahmad Sa'id

At 2/25/2005 10:09:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

How come we're misguided?

At 2/25/2005 11:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How come we're misguided?"

I dunno Barhoum! It sounded good when I initially said it :) ... Bottom line is, you've been sending conflicting messages (or else I'm confusing you with Emile, or think you're both the same person.) It seems to me that all you do (both of you) is criticize the confessional system and pontificate on democracy, but offer little else. I'm guessing maybe, just maybe, confessionalism is Lebanon's version of democracy; the democracy of a severely stratified and diversified plural society. You're probably living in Sweden and expect Lebanon to become Sweden! Well maybe your community, Maronites I'm guessing, has reached a level of political sophistication to demand and expect "secular" democracy (and I want to argue that 1920 democratic "confessional" secular Lebanon was perhaps an extention of the Maronites' view of themselves... The Maronites were able to fully identify with that plural Lebanon precisely because it was their own creation; being Lebanese and being a Maronite were not mutually exclusive terms for them.. to the contrary, they were complementary! But what does that tell you about the Druze who knew himself as nothing BUT a Druze for 800 years prior? What does that tell you about a Sunni who was the privileged component of larger Empire with which he completely identified before the emergence of Lebanon? or Syria for that matter??) You can't expect people who, for a thousand years thought of themselves in specific terms and labels, to eschew these labels and become Lebanese overnight! (unless, of course, the Lebanese idea was an extention of these peoples' primordial pre-Lebanese identity, as is the case with the Maronites.)
Bottom line, we're in the Middle East, and we have to see things from the perspective of, say, Syrians, whom I know would give their right arm for the confessional democracy you're disparaging. It's noble to shoot for a Sweden type of democracy, but remember who you're dealing with here! I wasn't exaggerating or being unfair when I suggested that we, Syrians, are still living in the stone-ages. A confessional democracy is a giant leap forward for us, and is perhaps still the only viable solution for a multi-ethnic state like Lebanon! Otherwise, you'd be toying with partition very soon!

Ahmad Sa'id

At 2/25/2005 12:51:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To: Anonymous at 5:14am
To: Anonymous at 5:32am

I thought we had agreed to use a tone of civility.

I am free to rave all I want and that is exactly what people like you have been doing for very long.

As to my pseudo, it is only in reference to the great Woodrow Wilson, who was a practical man and a great President, and to piss off supporters of the French-British legacy.

And: to Ahmad Sa'id: I agree with you about Syria. I have many Syrian friends, including pro-Bashar people; they would love to have the freedoms that the Lebanese have, only because of the promise of democracy at the horizon. They also think that they can benefit from our mistakes, and at the top of the list, they hate political sectarianism.

PS: Sorry to disappoint you all, but as a fat capitalist who does not need to work (and who would not yet relocate his thriving business to the ME in the present conditions despite nostalgia, including nostalgia for people who argue like you; let us face it, arguing about politics in the US and Canada is BORING), I do think that, in politics, all boils down to money; this is what it is all about; this is the credo in the US; in a stable situation, people vote for the economic right-wing party or the economic left-wing party (I will admit that I vote for the party that ensures social fairness and a stable economy). In Lebanon, the late Kamal Jumblatt and the late Pierre Gemayel were invited on TV in 1976 to talk about their respective visions of Lebanon, and that is what they said (workers rights for KJ and trickle-down economics for PG). Finally, I do have a copy of Georges Naccache's writings, and also Michel Chiha's... (but not much about Adonis, sorry Ahmad).

PPS: Economic fairness is everybody's most important preoccupation in Syria now.

At 2/26/2005 05:10:00 AM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

Anonymous @ 11.33 am,

I can assure you that Emile and I are not the same person... see, his name is Emile, he's an Orthodox; I'm Ibrahim, a Maronite, we're different, see?

Anyways, yes I would love to see all other communities in Lebanon identify to Lebanon as much or even more than they identify to their belongings to other identities... The Sunnis, Shias, Druzes, Armenians and others...

Only then would Lebanon not only mean a country created for Maronites, but a country created for all... I believe somehow we're getting there.

At 3/02/2005 03:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is funny how the maronites are being blamed for everything, when it took 30 years for the rest of the Lebanese to figure out and admit that the syrian regime is the enemy. Granted those in "power" take the blame, but today's disenchanted should realize that a good chunk of maronites and other mostly christian lebanese did spill their blood to fight the syrians and the aggressive palestinians. Many martyrs fell during those days and their sacrifice should not be forgotten. Enormous mistakes were committed and many militiamen committed atrocious crimes, but why are we willing to forgive atrocities by the greatest and best armies in the world, such as the US, UK, Russia, but we always condemn radically the work of the "militias" which were after all no organized army. Both Lebanon and Syria deserve to move into the 21st century, develop governemnts that are above all responsible for the well-being of their citizens in a responsible and accountable fashion. It is time for the syrians to shake up the mountains of dust from the assad dynasty and demand their right for freedom and their responsibility to respect their neighbor's rights. AS for the disenchanted orthodox, grow up. The orthodox community in Lebanon is highly respected and has given teh nation many thinkers and patriots. Glad they do not all adopt your narrow-minded thinking. The sectarian formula in LEbanon was a survival trick, without which Emile would be hardly have the right to speak up his mind. The formula needs to evolve and adpt but do not throw the baby along with the bath water.

At 3/03/2005 03:47:00 PM, Anonymous Ibrahim said...

Excellent comment

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